Work Sample

Zachary Hyvarinen
Professor Bratcher
September 2016
Gentrification: A Revival or War on the Poor?

When I was about eleven years old, I remember sitting in the backseat of my father’s Ford Expedition as we drove by a new condominium complex on our way back from a day of bowling. My mother turned to my father who was driving and spitefully said “Grandpa George did not even get the $1100 they are charging for a month’s rent for the entire house!” I asked what they were talking about, and she explained to me that his house was taken through a fancy government word called “eminent domain”.

Eight years later, and a new understanding on what eminent domain meant, I was in a similar situation. As part of the welcome week at American University, I traveled to the historic neighborhood of Columbia Heights in Washington, D.C. When I arrived the only thing that appeared “historic” was the faux rustic flag in one of the store fronts. Target and Modell’s Sporting Goods welcomes patrons exiting the metro. Once we left the shopping district and passed a few houses with luxury cars parked in their driveways, my guide said a new queer word called gentrification. I asked him to elaborate, and he briefly described to me how Columbia Heights was much different just a decade ago.

Gentrification is the process in which poor residents are displaced in a newly developed community by wealthier people. The term is relatively new, with the earliest roots I discovered in my research to be in the 1970s.  For the most part, the process of gentrifying an area is systematic. In my father’s case a large national franchise purchased and redeveloped an abandoned lot. Due to America’s commercialized society, the inhabitants of the area rushed to the store that offered cheaper, and a wider variety of goods. This boosted the profit of the store, which attracted more businesses. The local city council were more than welcoming to the new business and property tax dollars. Suddenly, more citizens were employed and things began to look good for the once poor neighborhood. Then, the real estate developers stepped in and began building new condominiums. With the ease of access to stores, and the promise of more development to come, the owners charged a high price tag for rent. This attracted wealthier people from surrounding suburbs. With the influx of dollars into the community, property values grow exponentially. The natives of the community, including my father and his family were then forced to move out of their once historic neighborhood into surrounding cities.

Going back to D.C., according to the American Community Survey, 51.9% of eligible tracts are gentrifying in the nation’s capitol (Governing). A Washington Times article specifically discusses Columbia Heights, and how it is now a “must see” attraction for visitors. The author quietly defends the gentrifying of the area by saying that the neighborhood began to blend in culture after the civil rights movement. In reality, wealthy white people moved in when the poorer minorities could no longer afford to live in the community (Neighborhoods). As a college student, I myself have traveled to Columbia Heights not to visit the historical landmarks or experience the culture, but to purchase a refrigerator at the Target mentioned earlier. I didn’t stop at any of local restaurants or street vendors. I went directly to the place that removed many of the people living in the area.

There are some variations of gentrification. Although that is what my father experienced, sometimes developers focus on middle-class communities because the area is move-in ready. It is easy to persuade the residents that a supermall or new housing complex will offer better opportunities for them because this class is eager for more. However, the jobs that are created are minimum-wage and hourly that offer weak incentives if any. This puts a stress on the locals forcing them to move out with the right of property values and rent.  

Gentrification is not a national problem that is directly harming many local communities. Critics of it claim that under-privileged families are targeted behind the mask of economic improvement plans. Proponents say that gentrification causes crime rates to decrease, and job creations. For the most part, the topic has a relatively low amount of research. With the highly publicized hype of racial and economic discrimination, I would think that gentrification would receive a higher interest than what it what already does.

TO: Dr. Manuel and Professor Greene
FROM: Education and Empowerment Social Action Team
DATE: May 2017
RE: Education and Rehabilitation for Incarcerated Youth in the District of Columbia

DC Juvenile Detention Project Memo (PDF)

Research Question:

To begin our social action project, we researched how does the quality of education in a juvenile correctional facility affect rates of recidivism?

Across the country, over 80,000 youth go through juvenile correctional facilities, where only 12% of them acquire and pass General Education Development Tests (GED) (Thielbar, 2011). Standard education opportunities in these facilities that allow youths to continue their education are too few and far between, and too variable in terms of quality across the country. Research has shown that education, along with several other factors, can play a leading role in determining if a student is able to reintegrate successfully to the outside world without reverting to criminal activity. While there have been various successes in providing literary, vocational, and mentor based education programs to juvenile correctional facilities, largely the infrastructure to help incarcerated youth is not sufficient in its current state.This affects entire communities, from the families of incarcerated youth to the larger communities that are robbed of these students both immediately, and years in the future. By taking programs that have successfully been used to help juveniles reintegrate to the outside world in isolated cases, and implementing them on a larger scale, there is potential to help more at risk youth achieve rehabilitation after going through juvenile correctional facilities.

Causes and Consequences of Recidivism

The causes of recidivism, and the role education plays in it, have been thoroughly investigated over time. A group of researchers meta-analyzed twenty-three different studies in order to try and determine factors that contribute to recidivism. They managed to identify thirty different factors that could go into eight umbrella topics, including quality of education (Cottle, 2001). According to that study, lack of proper education before incarceration, and during time in a juvenile correctional facility, could lead to increased recidivism rates for youths after release. A paper published by the Loyola University of Chicago found that lack of one on one attention in an educational setting due to too high student/teacher ratio increases rates of recidivism, and that lack of early interventions and pre-kindergarten education are a missed opportunity to provide a deterrent for criminal behavior (Thielbar, 2011). Together these sources point towards overarching ideas on the causes of recidivism in juveniles, with education and lack of attention playing a major contributing role.

The consequences of not reaching certain educational milestones can make a stark difference for those leaving prison. A 1997 study looked at four states and the difference in recidivism with or without a post-secondary degree (Bednarowski, 2011). In Maryland, the recidivism rate fell from 46.7% to virtually nothing when offenders received a post secondary degree. Likewise, Alabama saw a drop from 35.45% to 1.2% (Bednarowski, 2011). A comprehensive 2011 study definitively showed a major decrease in rates of recidivism for participants of a formal education program, or a vocational program, versus those who opted out of both (Bednarowski, 2011). One component of this was a 1997 study that followed 3,600 men and women and demonstrated that education programs reduced re-incarceration by 29%. A 2002 eight state investigation showed a recidivism drop from 49% to 20%. Lastly, a 2007 study in Colorado showed that those who received vocational training had a recidivism rate of 8.75%, those with a GED were at 6.71% and those who had neither had a rate of 26% (Bednarowski, 2011). This data demonstrates the clear need for education programs within the justice system and the key role it can play in recidivism for the future of incarcerated youth.

Key Stakeholders

One of the direct beneficiaries of implementing educational programs within the justice system are the youth themselves, as the programs directly help reduce the individual’s chance of recidivism, while increasing their chance of rehabilitation. The ways in which the youth benefit from programs vary, as each correctional facility takes a different approach to education. One team of researchers theorized that the way to reduce recidivism and increase emotional stability in incarcerated youth would be to increase the amount of vocational training that they received (Ameen, 2012). By providing vocational training, it is speculated that youth will be able to enter into a trades job with practical skills when released back into society (Ameen, 2012). Additionally, vocational skills do not just benefit the youth but also the communities they re-enter because they are able to become contributing members of society within the workforce. Businesses within local communities would then have more young people coming to them with specific background in the field and a desire to work. Therefore, with a means of income and a healthy way to occupy their time, youth have less of a need and fewer chances to recommit crimes.

Another study, conducted among Maryland youth, found that after inhabitants were introduced to an advanced literary education program they had an increased level of emotional stability and academic preparedness for life (Drakeford, 2002). Through this academic preparedness, students are able to easily reenter into the school system and have a better chance of achieving a higher level of education. Through the one-on-one educational programs, there is positive impact to the youth due to the fact that they are being guided both emotionally and intellectually, and are provided with an outside support system that can be maintained after leaving the correctional facility. Additionally, the mentees are significantly influenced by the experience as they are able to build a connection with an at risk youth.

Appraisal of Past Solutions

Across the board, there have been systemic failures in the majority of juvenile correctional facilities across the country to make education and rehabilitation a priority. One study has shown that most incarcerated youth are vastly outperformed on standardized tests compared to adolescents in local public school systems, and they are not getting the help necessary to bridge that gap (Krezimen, 2008). A 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice provided guiding principles for high-quality education in juvenile justice facilities (U.S. Department of Education). The principles include a climate that “provides the conditions for learning, and encourages the necessary behavioral and social support services that address the individual needs of all youths” in addition to necessary funding for long-term facilities, retention of qualified education staff, relevant curricula, and reentry into communities (U.S. Department of Education).

Creating concrete solutions out of ideological principles is by no means simple given the complexities of the juvenile justice system on state and federal levels. In “Education Services in Juvenile Corrections: 40 Years of Litigation and Reform,” Peter E. Leone notes that while  privatizing education programs in juvenile corrections is not a universal remedy, when school districts and state agencies fail, private contractors and organizations often have the ability and expertise to provide educational services (596). In several jurisdictions, where public schools are unable to deliver quality education, juvenile justice agencies have contracted with private providers to lead education programs for incarcerated youth. For example, at New Beginnings, the juvenile commitment facility for the District of Columbia, the Maya Angelou Academy provides quality services and support (Leone et al., 596). Other non-profits and groups within the D.C. area have similarly filled this need for supplementary educational programs.

Incarcerated youth additionally face increased odds of dropping out, therefore quality education in corrections is a vital opportunity to both reconnect with formal education and boost skills (Leone et al., 2015). Research suggests a correlation between participation in education programs and lower crime rates and lower levels of recidivism. The final results reveal positive gains with respect to oral fluency, grade placement and attitude (Drakeford, 2002). This supports the notion that educational services in juvenile corrections provide incarcerated youth with a chance to increase their academic skills and develop the emotional confidence needed to achieve personal goals.


With this research in mind, we created a plan for our project. Our initial plan was to create a peer mentorship program at American University that would go directly into juvenile detention facilities. We wanted this to be a program that would continue after our semester ended, so the plan was to train a group of students in a way that would allow them to be mentors to youth in the detention center for as long as possible. This was all directly modeled after the Georgetown ASK program, which we hoped to partner with. The ASK program has been operating in this method for several years, and is a well known organization on their campus. We hoped that by partnering with them they would offer us lessons on how to make ourselves successful quickly.

In starting our relationship with the Georgetown ASK coordinator, Alana contacted the program and asked to set up a date to meet. Unfortunately, this initial outreach in November was not responded to and it took until a third call in January to get through to the organization. During this phone call, it was apparent that Elizabeth was confused as to what this program was or how she could be of assistance to us, and asked us again to send her information about our project and the SPA Leadership Program. Following this request, we came together as a focus group and created a document that outlined our mission, vision, and goal, as well as the history of the SPA Leadership Program, and our proposal of why we wanted to reach out to their organization specifically. Once this was completed we reached out again to set up a meeting date, yet she did not get back to us about a meeting time. As the month continued to pass by we realized starting this program off all on our own was going to take longer than the six weeks we had left, therefore we needed to reevaluate how to come up with a more possible project.

So as it became clear that our original plan with the ASK program was not going to come together in time,we determined we needed a new plan. Using the research and resources we accumulated at the beginning of the project, as a group we decided to adjust course and partner with other local organizations in our efforts to provide books, notebooks, and other school supplies to incarcerated youth in metropolitan D.C. We found one organization directly involved in the education of incarcerated youth, D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Services (DCYRS), and another that donates necessary educational tools to various juvenile detention centers in the D.C. area called Free Minds Book Club, which we felt aligned with our mission and provided opportunity for concrete improvements for juvenile justice in D.C. at an individual and community level.

To make the best use of the remaining time in the semester, our original idea of an on-campus book drive became a crowdfunded book drive through GoFundMe, directly involving not only D.C. students but donors across the country in our social action project. Through sharing on our personal Facebook profiles and AU Books for Youth Facebook page, as a group we far surpassed our goal of four hundred dollars in addition to dozens of book donations through the American University chapter of Rotaract. The amount we raised allowed for more choice in how much we could directly donate to Free Minds, given the sheer amount of books we expected to receive from partnering D.C. bookstores at discounted prices.

Next, we had to determine how to use the money and actually get our resources to our beneficiaries. First, we have reached out to two book stores in the area that are willing to let us buy all of their cheap books. So we will use the money we raised to Uber to the bookstores. We have already collected boxes so we will split into two groups and go to each bookstores, buy all the books we can, then meet at DCRYS. We will take the books we have already collected with us and we will donate all of the books to the DCYRS center. Then we will donate what’s left of the money to the Free Minds organization. With these contributions, we believe we can have a small but tangible impact on education by improving the resources and opportunities of DC incarcerated youth.


Bednarowski, Jerry. “The Effects of Prison Education on Recidivism.” CEA Forums: Research,

Evaluation & Training. N.p., 16 Mar. 2011. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

Cottle, Cindy C., Ria J. Lee, and Kirk Heilbrun. “The prediction of criminal recidivism in juveniles a meta-analysis.” Criminal justice and behavior 28.3 (2001): 367-394.

Drakeford, William. “The Impact of an Intensive Program to Increase the Literacy Skills of Youth Confined to Juvenile Corrections.” Journal of Correctional Education, vol. 53, no. 4, 2002, pp. 139–144.

Krezmien, Michael P., Mulcahy Candace A., and Leone Peter E. “Detained and Committed Youth: Examining Differences in Achievement, Mental Health Needs, and Special Education Status.”Education and Treatment of Children, vol. 31, no. 4, 2008, pp. 445-64.

Leone, P. E. & Wruble, P. C. “Education Services in Juvenile Corrections: 40 Years of Litigation and Reform.” Education and Treatment of Children, vol. 38 no. 4, 2015, pp. 587-604. Project MUSE.

Thielbar, Kimberly. “Education in Juvenile Detention Centers”: Loyola University of Chicago. 13 Sept. 2016

Free College Brief-Analysis

Zachary Hyvarinen

Professor Schwartz

CLEG 2016

Prompt: You work for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She has no experience with higher education. In service of her boss’s priority of bringing employment opportunity to people who have been left behind in the new economy, she has asked you to come up with an education plan. In particular, she wants to know if some variation on the Clinton and Sanders free- and debt-free college proposals would help. Provide your assessment. Include at least three recommendations for changes, improvements, or substitutes.

During the Presidential Primaries, higher education funding was at the forefront of issues for debate. Senator Bernie Sanders ran much of his campaign on the idea of tuition-free public colleges. Not to be stuck in the shadows, Hillary Clinton followed by promising about the same. College is an expensive investment that is not fit for everyone. The Department of Education should stay clear of the current climate of politics and work to improve the economy and lives of Americans pursuing a career through improved job training.

Free College

The National Education Association estimates that about 70% of current workers in the labor force do not have a college degree. Furthermore, only 49% of current high school seniors will go to college. Putting the cost aside, college for many people is not worth the time. After thirteen years of going to school five days a week, people are less inclined to spend another four years working towards a degree. Although this idea seems simple, it is especially true for impoverished students who would rather work than sit in a classroom all day. The Education Department has worked to change this way of thinking by creating programs like GearUp that provide students in high poverty communities like myself with mentors that are supposed to guide students to attain at least some form of higher education. These program have been successful, but college attendance levels have plateaued in recent years.

Free college has a few unintentional side-effects that could hurt society. It is likely that making college free will not make college more attractive for most people choosing not to attend. This would cause the progressive action to turn regressive. People who would be benefiting from the free college would still be attending if it had a price tag. Also, people who choose not to attend college would be footing the huge bill for those who do go through their tax dollars. A bill that is estimated between $35 and $75 billion dollars.

Another possible consequence of making college free is segregating people by their socioeconomically statuses. Since students would presumably bear no debt after graduating, their increased income would make them much wealthier than people who do not go to college. Where someone lives and the community they are in has a large effect on whether or not students go to college. More precisely, people in poor communities would stay poor and people in wealthy communities would become richer. College is an investment with risks, and the government should not be solely taking on those risks.

Paying for College

The little-known or understood Income-Based Repayment Plan has the most potential of making college more accessible and affordable for students. The plan, which is already in place, limits loan payments to only 10% of an individuals’ income after living expenses are deducted. After 20 years of loan payments, the remaining balance is forgiven. For public service workers, the forgiveness period is lowered to ten years. Right now, less than a quarter of borrowers enroll in the plan. To improve the plan, borrowers should automatically be enrolled in it. Hillary Clinton had

automatic enrollment as an item on her agenda. Also, to ensure that taxpayers don’t get stuck with a huge bill, President Obama has proposed that public service workers should only be relieved of $57,500 after ten years of payments.

Pell grants and federal loans make college possible for low-income students who do decide that college is the path they want to take. As a recipient of both programs, I can firmly say that if this support did not exist, I would not be in college today.

Also, before students even go to college, families can begin saving through 529 Plans. 529 Plans are investment portfolios for educational expenses. Gains in the investments are untaxed, and the principle amount is insured by the federal government. These plans are ideal for middle to high class families, who are paying the most for college.

Vocational Training

It would be un-American-like to accept that we cannot do anything about getting more people to attend college. However, we are focused on the wrong problem. As stated before, a super majority of jobs do not require a degree. Therefore, if we want to improve the economy, we should focus on preparing students for those jobs. If we focus on better vocational training instead of traditional academics, the results will be more specialized workers that fit the demands of the economy. In Germany, students who work as an apprentice receive 1/3 of the salary while completing their high school degree. This is a program that would work for the overwhelming number of Americans who would rather work than pursue higher education. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed a similar plan for their state’s educational system. Students would complete a part-time apprenticeship and traditional academic training. This would produce highly skilled workers that are versatile enough to change trade according to the waves of the economy.

The changing economy and technology has caused certain industries to decrease and require less workers. For example, the declining coal industry has put many Pennsylvanians out of work. As the Department of Education, it is our responsibility to provide education for all Americans, including adults. To get the coal miners back to work, they are going to need to change jobs completely. Adult education is little looked at in America, but most people today don’t stick with the same career or job for their entire life. That is why it is necessary for us to fund new adult education programs that focus on vocational training.

Again, college is an investment with risks. Other barriers like the community students live in have a greater impact on whether a student goes to college or not than the cost of higher education. If the Education Department wants to help get the students and current workers who fell between the cracks of the economy, the department has to understand where the jobs are in: trade. Realistically, most people will end up working in a job that vocational training could have prepared them for. It is time for us to be humble, and accept that although college graduates make more on average, the education is not necessary for most jobs. The job market is overcrowded with workers who have a degree that is not necessary for their field.

Works Cited (MLA format not required)

PDF Version